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Best Courses

10 Best Free C Programming Courses to Take in 2022

Here are the best FREE online courses to learn C, the low-level procedural programming language with broad applications in computer science and software engineering.

Searching for the best online course to learn how to code in C might be overwhelming with so many options available. In this article I’ve selected the best courses and tutorials to learn C programming. Some courses are more practical and interactive while others are more comprehensive and go beyond teaching C language. Even if you are a complete beginner with no experience whatsoever, there are great options for you. However, more experienced programmers can rest assured I’ve got you covered too.

If you’re in a hurry, here are my top picks. Click on one to skip to the course details:

Course Workload In Brief
1. Programming Fundamentals (Duke) 18 hours Best introduction to C for programming beginners
2. C for Everyone: Programming Fundamentals (UCSD) 15 hours Another excellent alternative introduction to C for programming beginners with fewer exercises
3. CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science (Harvard) 72—216 hours Best overall for programming beginners to learn C and beyond
4. C Programming: Getting Started (Dartmouth) 10—20 hours Great for programming beginners with in-browser exercises
5. Learn C – Free Interactive C Tutorial (learn-c.org) 5—10 hours Excellent article-based website with interactive tutorials for all
6. C Programming Tutorial for Beginners (fCC) 4 hours total Concise course that gets you up to speed with C programming
7. Algorithms, Data Collection, and Starting to Code (Colorado System) 15 hours total Best for people in STEM who want to program and think computationally in C
8.  6.172 Performance Engineering of Software Systems (MIT) 15 weeks Intermediate C course for software engineers
9. C Programming and Assembly Language (Indian Institute of Technology Madras) 4 weeks long Best for people working with C and assembly
10. Introducción a la programación en C: Tipos de datos y estructuras (Madrid) 15—25 hours Best C course for Spanish speakers

What is C?

C is a low-level procedural language with broad applications in computer science and software engineering. The language’s speed, flexibility, stability, and direct control over hardware are some of the major reasons behind why many programmers, especially software engineers and game developers, love the language.

In fact, C is the second most popular language in the world according to the TIOBE index, and forms the backbone of many applications, from operating systems to embedded systems to game engines to trains and even programming languages like Python.

Hence, due to C’s wide range of uses, it is easy to fill in any number of roles within a company. Many employers are looking for programmers with C experience and, according to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a C Developer is $113K a year.

Best Courses Guides Methodology

I built this ranking following the now tried-and-tested methodology used in previous Best Courses Guides (you can find them all here). It involves a three-step process:

  1. Research: I started by leveraging Class Central’s database with 80K+ online courses and 170K reviews. Then, I made a preliminary selection of courses by rating, reviews, and bookmarks.
  2. Evaluate: I read through reviews on Class Central, Reddit, and course providers to understand what other learners thought about each course and combined it with my own experience as a learner.
  3. Select: Well-made courses were picked if they presented valuable and engaging content and they have to fit in a set of criteria and be ranked accordingly: comprehensive curriculum, selling price, release date, ratings and enrollments.

Course Ranking Statistics

Here are some aggregate stats about the ranking:

  • The courses’ enrollments add up to a total of 4.2M enrollment.
  • All of the courses in this ranking are free or free-to-audit
  • All of the courses except for one are in English.
  • Together, the courses account for 150 reviews at Class Central.
  • 8 courses are beginner level, while two courses are intermediate level.
  • Around 6.5K people are following Class Central’s C Courses Topic.

Without further ado, let’s go through the top picks.

1. Programming Fundamentals (Duke University)

My first pick for the best course to learn C is Programming Fundamentals by Duke University.

This free-to-audit course not only teaches programming newbies the C programming language clearly and concisely, but it also acts as an excellent introduction to computational thinking and algorithms.

In this course, you’ll learn the essence of programming, solving problems by writing step-by-step instructions known in computer science as algorithms. You’ll learn a robust problem-solving process called the Seven Steps to help you develop an algorithm, how to read and understand code, and the Everything is a Number Principle.

No programming experience is needed prior to taking this course.

What You’ll Learn

The first module introduces an effective process for solving any programming problem — the Seven Steps. You’ll learn how to approach a programming problem methodically to formulate a precise and correct algorithm. At this point, you should have a basic grasp of developing simple algorithms.

In the second module, you’ll learn to read code, which means executing code line-by-line by hand and clearly illustrating what each statement does and what the program’s state is. Understanding how to read code is the only way to ensure you aren’t blindly writing code! By the end of this module, you will be able to read and understand code with functions, conditional statements, iteration, and other fundamental techniques.

In the third module, you’ll learn about types beyond integers, conceptual representations, and hardware representations in binary. Everything is a number to a computer, but types determine the size and interpretation of numbers. You’ll study the basic data types, ‘non-number’ types, and complex custom types, as well as some important caveats, to avoid type-related programming mistakes.

The fourth and final module will entail developing and testing your own algorithm for sorting data. This will help reinforce the importance of being specific when writing an algorithm and provide an opportunity to perform a very common computational task: sorting.

How You’ll Learn

The course is 4 weeks long, with 18 hours worth of material. You’ll primarily learn through video lectures along with supplementary reading materials and practice quizzes to test your understanding.

For paying learners, each module ends with a graded quiz that’ll count towards achieving your certification.

Institution Duke University
Provider Coursera
Instructor Andrew D. Hilton, Genevieve M. Lipp and Anne Bracy
Level Beginner
Workload 18 hours total
Enrollments 173K
Rating 4.7 / 5.0 (6.2K)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

2. C for Everyone: Programming Fundamentals (University of California, Santa Cruz)

C for Everyone: Programming Fundamentals is also another great introduction to C for beginners to programming.

In this free-to-audit course, you’ll learn how to program in C starting from scratch. You’ll rigorously build up your knowledge of C and programming in general piece by piece, and by the end of the course you’ll be able to move on to more advanced programming.

No prior knowledge of coding is needed for this course.

What You’ll Learn

You’ll begin this course with a brief history of the C language and understand its philosophy to help you guide you when understanding what it means to compile, debug, and run a program. You’ll then learn how to write and run your own simple program where you’ll convert one unit to another.

Just as languages have rules on spelling and grammar, C also requires you to follow its rules to write proper C code. But unlike human languages where some minor spelling or grammar mistake may still be comprehensible, even one minor error in your code will prevent C from compiling your code! Hence, you’ll not only learn to write proper code but also good C code by making your code easy to read.

The course also introduces you to a bunch of essential programming concepts that you’ll need to know in order to write programs that tackle real-world problems. You’ll begin by learning about conditional statements and loops which help you control the flow of your program and functions which help you reuse code and think recursively.

Finally, the course ends with a valuable lesson on arrays and pointers — concepts which trip even the most experienced of programmers if they are not careful. You’ll see these ideas in action when you study sorting algorithms like bubble sort and merge sort.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 6 weeks long with 15 hours worth of material. You’ll learn primarily from watching lecture videos and participating in the discussion forum.

If you’re a paying learner, you’ll have access to the graded quizzes and peer-graded programming exercises where you’ll look at fellow learners’ programs. You’ll end this course with a final exam that’ll assess everything you’ve learned throughout the course.

Institution University of California, Santa Cruz
Provider Coursera
Instructor Ira Pohl
Level Beginner
Workload 15 hours total
Enrollments 192K
Rating 4.5 / 5.0 (5.2K)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

  • The course has 365 bookmarks on Class Central.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

3. CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science (Harvard University)

My third pick for the best C programming course CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science, offered by Harvard University on edX. Although this course is more focused on getting a general overview of computer science than C programming per se, the course does introduce programming newbies to the C language in a really engaging way, with detailed explanations and challenging exercises to boot!

Launched on edX in 2012, CS50 is the computer science course on the internet. It is famous for its splendid production quality and its yearly curriculum updates.

It provides a succinct but comprehensive overview of what computer science is all about. Whether you are a newbie who has never heard of ‘Hello World!’, or a programmer who knows a thing or two about computers, you’ll come out of this course having learned something new.

One Thing to Note

Although the course exercises come in two versions, easy and challenging, I found that even the easy exercises can be a bit tricky! If you know nothing about programming, I’d recommend you find someone to study this course with. Fortunately, CS50 has one of the largest and most active course communities online: check their Discord.

Or if you’re looking for a shorter, more practical course, you might want to have a look at my Python ranking, which includes some gentler on-ramps into the world of programming.

The Instructor

CS50 can’t be discussed without bringing up David J. Malan, the Harvard professor that teaches the course. Rarely has an instructor been so instrumental to the success of a course. Beyond being an excellent educator, Prof. Malan is a true entertainer, with near-perfect delivery. And when you’re tackling an academic course that may take you dozens of hours to complete, having an instructor capable of capturing the learner’s attention makes a huge difference.

So if despite a sincere desire to learn, you find yourself falling asleep while taking online courses, this might just be the course for you. Prof. Malan’s energy is contagious!

What You’ll Learn

The course begins with the premise that computer science is, at its core, problem solving. It introduces you to binary, the fundamental language of computers, and explains how sequences of 1s and 0s can somehow represent text, images, videos, and even sounds!

You’ll learn that algorithms are step-by-step instructions designed to solve a problem. The most common type of algorithms you’ll deal with throughout the course are algorithms for sorting and searching, like bubble sort, merge sort, and binary search. You may wonder, ‘What’s the point of having many different algorithms if they all do the same thing?’. This is when you’ll learn about measuring the efficiency of an algorithm with Big O notation.

The first programming language the course teaches is the beginner-friendly language Scratch. Through block-based coding, Scratch will be used to illustrate fundamental programming concepts for you, before removing your training wheels and dragging you down into the depths of low-level programming languages.

You’ll begin your first deep dive into traditional programming with C, a low-level programming language. You’ll spend a few weeks coding in C, where you’ll manage memory by hand and implement your first data structures.

You’ll learn that computers store data in sequences of locations in memory, and how computers can locate and access data with addresses and pointers. You’ll also learn about the different ways we can create and store lists of values, like arrays, linked lists, and trees. You’ll compare the advantages and disadvantages of each data structure. For example, hash tables can be accessed in constant time, but require mitigating the risk of data collision.

You’ll then be brought back up to the surface towards “higher-level” programming, where you’ll be able to comfortably breathe as you begin working with Python, and continue jumping from topic to topic. You’ll explore SQL, the programming language of many databases. The final weeks of the course culminate in you building and designing an interactive website with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and a Python framework called Flask.

How You’ll Learn

The course is ten weeks long, plus an open-ended final project that might take an extra week (or more, if you want to work on something really ambitious). The course is recorded annually on-campus at Harvard before being launched online the following Spring. While the recording is ongoing, you might be able to join via live stream with a hundred other learners, or if you live near campus, even attend in person — though the pandemic might preclude this for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, you’ll have access to on-demand recordings on edX or via Harvard OCW.

Regarding assessments, you’ll complete ten problem sets, eight labs and a final end-of-course project that you’ll have to design and come up with yourself or with a team. You’ll be able to code and submit these via a convenient in-browser VS Code-based editor.

Institution Harvard University
Provider edX
Instructor David J. Malan, Brian Yu
Level Beginner
Workload 72—216 hours total
Enrollments 3.7M
Certificate Free and Paid (see below)

Fun Facts

  • CS50x has been bookmarked around 30k times and has over 100 reviews on Class Central.
  • Here is a guide on how to earn a free certificate using Harvard OCW platform.
  • The course instructor David J. Malan has been teaching CS50x for 15 years, first on-campus at Harvard, and on edX since 2012.
  • Every year, CS50x organizes Puzzle Day, a friendly problem-solving competition where you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with learners worldwide.
  • CS50x is a part of both our list of Most Popular Courses of All Time and Best Free Courses of All Time.
  • David J. Malan was the founder and chairman of Diskaster, a hard drive and memory card data recovery firm. One of the exercises in the course is a nod to his previous work.
  • CS50x is the longest course on this ranking, owing to its comprehensiveness.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

4. C Programming: Getting Started (Dartmouth College)

C Programming: Getting Started by Dartmouth College is suitable for beginners to programming as they will be able to code right within the web browser.

In this free-to-audit 5 weeks limited-access course, you’ll learn the principles of C programming. By the end of this course, you’ll learn what a computer program is and how to write a simple one.

No prerequisites are required for this course.

What You’ll Learn

The course begins with the history of the C programming language, why it was created and what it is used for, and the history behind  ‘Hello World!’, a famous phrase you might have seen before when you were reading about programming.

Then, you’ll learn what a computer program is before looking at a ‘hello world’ program written in C and studying its anatomy. You’ll also use comments to explain and clarify your code.

Next, you’ll study variables, which, just like their mathematical counterparts, store values in them. However, variables can not only store integers, they can also store characters and doubles. You’ll also learn why we must distinguish between integers and doubles when declaring variables.

Variables would be useless if we didn’t do anything with them. You’ll learn how to get the program to read input written by the user, store the input into variables, and then use for-loops to repeat computation on the variables and display the result to the user.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 5 weeks long with each week taking 2—4 hours of study. You’ll learn by watching the lecture videos, participating actively in the forums, and coding hands-on in a browser tool that’ll provide instant feedback on your code.

For verified certificate learners, you’ll complete a graded final project to put everything you’ve learned to the test.

Institution Dartmouth College and Institut Mines-Télécom
Provider edX
Instructor Petra Bonfert-Taylor and Rémi Sharrock
Level Beginner
Workload 10—20 hours total
Enrollments 152K
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

5. Learn C – Free Interactive C Tutorial (learn-c.org)

Learn-c.org is a free C tutorial suitable for everyone, from the newbie to the professional. It dives through the basics of C as well as a few advanced concepts through online interactive in-browser exercises.

No programming experience required!

What You’ll Learn

Hello, World! You’ll start off by learning the parts of a C program, before moving on to learning about variables and their types. You’ll then learn about arrays including multidimensional arrays and how to use them.

Moving on, you’ll learn about conditional statements as well as the for loop and while loop which help you control the flow of your program. Not only that, but you’ll learn how to manipulate strings of text and also use functions to help reuse your code.

The course also digs deeper into advanced topics that experienced programmers need to know. Pointers are a big part of C programming, and you’ll study how to master them both conceptually and in practice. You’ll also learn about data structures like linked lists, binary trees, and unions, as well as dynamic allocation, as C doesn’t do the memory management for you, you have to do it yourself! Lastly, you’ll learn a few other important concepts like recursion and bitmasks.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 5—10 hours long. You’ll learn primarily from following the tutorial and practicing writing and running code directly from the web browser.

Institution learn-c.org
Level Beginner
Workload 5—10 hours total
Certificate None

Fun Facts

  • Interactive Tutorials is a personal project of the creator, Ron Reiter, and is aimed at making everyone in the world be able to learn how to code for free.
  • The site also offers courses on other programming languages like C++, Python, and Java.
  • This course is open-source, and experienced programmers are encouraged to contribute by creating and adding their own tutorials to the GitHub repository.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

6. C Programming Tutorial for Beginners (freeCodeCamp)

C Programming Tutorial for Beginners by freeCodeCamp aims to teach you everything you need to know to get started in the C programming language.

The free short and concise course starts from basics like installing a text editor and definition of a computer program, all the way to the more advanced stuff like structures, functions, and pointers. By the end of this course, you’ll have a robust foundation in C.

No programming experience is required to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

First, you’ll learn how to set up your programming environment on your PC by installing Code::Blocks, a feature-packed open-source text editor for writing C code. You’ll begin by printing ‘Hello World!’.

This course also covers: drawing a shape, variables, data types, printf(), working with numbers, comments, constants, getting user input, building a basic calculator, building a Mad Libs game, arrays, functions, return statement, if statements, building a better calculator, switch statements, structs, while loops, building a guessing game, for loops, 2D arrays and nested loops, memory addresses, pointers, dereferencing pointers, writing files, and reading files.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 4 hours long. You’ll learn by watching the lecture video and following along with the instructor as he codes.

Institution freeCodeCamp
Provider YouTube
Instructor Mike Dane
Level Beginner
Workload 4 hours total
Views 7M
Likes 135K
Certificate None

Fun Facts

  • Mike is currently working on Dev Simulator, an upcoming coding RPG where you’ll play a fun storyline and build a webapp.
  • freeCodeCamp offers many other courses on various programming languages on their YouTube channel as well as on their website.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

7. Algorithms, Data Collection, and Starting to Code (University of Colorado System)

Algorithms, Data Collection, and Starting to Code by the University of Colorado System  starts you off on your journey to learn about computational thinking and C programming.

This free-to-audit challenging but rewarding course will teach you how to develop C programs by writing your first C program; learning about data types, variables, and constants; and honing your C programming skills by implementing a variety of STEM computations.

No previous programming experience is needed to take this course.

What You’ll Learn

The first module of the course will have you set up your integrated development environment, where you’ll code C. You’ll use Visual Studio if you’re on Windows or Xcode on Mac. You’ll then learn how to develop detailed algorithms to solve specific problems and implement these algorithms by writing a simple C program.

Then, you’ll investigate how data is stored in our computers. You’ll learn about bits and bytes, the building blocks of data, and how we represent information with those, along with data types that specify what kind of data a computer is storing. For example, 10110 may represent the number 22 or v, the 22nd letter of the alphabet.

You’ll have learned how data is helpful, but how do we find, collect, and store it? You’ll practice managing data and use them with algorithms to solve specific complex problems. Finally, now that you have the algorithm-writing skills, you’ll learn how to apply these to STEM computation problems by developing C programs.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 4 weeks long with 15 hours worth of material. You’ll learn primarily from watching the lecture videos, reading the course material, participating in the discussion forum, and completing the practice exercises to engage with computational thinking topics.

For paying learners, you’ll have one graded quiz and three graded programming assignments.

Institution University of Colorado System
Provider Coursera
Instructor Dr. Tim “Dr. T” Chamillard
Level Beginner
Workload 15 hours total
Enrollments 18K
Rating 4.6 / 5.0 (323)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

8. 6.172 Performance Engineering of Software Systems (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

If you already have some knowledge about C, then this free course might help strengthen your programming skills.

6.172 Performance Engineering of Software Systems by MIT provides a hands-on, project-based introduction to building scalable and high-performance software systems. You’ll learn about performance analysis, algorithmic techniques for high performance, instruction-level optimizations, caching optimizations, parallel programming, and building scalable systems.

The prerequisites for this class are 6.004 Computation Structures, 6.006 Introduction to Algorithms, and 6.005 Software Construction or equivalent.

What You’ll Learn

The course opens with a question: Why should programmers study performance when many people find cost, correctness, and extensibility to be much more important? You’ll learn the reason is because every other characteristic is treated as a trade-off in relation to performance, for example, increased security might mean degradation of performance. Hence, programmers need to optimize for performance as much as they can so that they can also focus on all of these other qualities.

You’ll start by learning about matrix multiplication and how programs perform then. You’ll learn about Bentley rules for optimizing work, a.k.a performance of programs. Moving on, you’ll learn about assembly language and computer architecture and the kind of measures taken by the compiler when C is compiled to assembly language.

You’ll also learn about multicore programming and parallelism, a popular topic in the last few decades. You’ll then learn about storage allocation and caches which help cut down on the time spent transferring data between memory and the CPU. You’ll take note of race conditions and deadlocks and how to avoid them too.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 15 weeks long depending on your pace of progress. You’ll learn from watching the lecture videos, viewing the course slides, and completing the assignments and quizzes and comparing with the provided solutions.

Institution Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Provider MITOpenCourseWare
Instructor Charles Leiserson and Julian Shun
Level Intermediate
Workload 15 weeks
Certificate None

Fun Facts

  • The course has 20 bookmarks and 1 review on Class Central.
  • The source code of the course can be located here on GitHub.
  • Charles E. Leiserson is Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT while Julian Shun is an associate professor in the EECS department.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

9. C Programming and Assembly Language (Indian Institute of Technology Madras)

Often, students study writing assembly language with microprocessors and writing C programs in computers, but rarely do students understand the link between C and assembly language.

In this free course by Indian Institute of Technology Madras, you’ll explore how a C program is translated to assembly language and how it eventually gets executed on a microprocessor.

To take this course, you’re expected to have done a course on C programming and microprocessors.

What You’ll Learn

The first week of the course begins with an introduction to microprocessors and assembly language. Here, you’ll learn about microprocessor architecture that defines the capabilities of a microprocessor and how it determines the machine language it runs on. You’ll study the basic instruction set of a machine language.

Then, you’ll move on to studying C, a low-level language but more abstract than machine language. You’ll compare how C works in relation to inline assembly, such as data types, multiplication, and swapping variables.

Compiling C to assembly language takes place in the third week of the course, where you’ll take a look at compiling a simple C program to assembly. Topics included are passing parameters, prologue and epilogue, and local variables.

The final week involves some special functions like memcpy and strlen in C and C++. You’ll also learn about recursion and how they compare with loops, specifically looking at factorial as an example.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 4 weeks long. You’ll primarily learn by watching the lecture videos and following along with the instructor.

Institution Indian Institute of Technology Madras
Provider YouTube
Instructor Janakiraman Viraraghavan
Level Intermediate
Workload 4 weeks long
Certificate None

Fun Facts

  • SWAYAM is a programme initiated by the Government of India whose objective is to provide the best learning resources to all, including the most disadvantaged.
  • Janakiraman Viraraghavan is an assistant professor at the Electrical Engineering Department, Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

10. Introducción a la programación en C: Tipos de datos y estructuras (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

If you know Spanish, then this free-to-audit 5 weeks limited-access course by Universidad Autónoma de Madrid will be excellent for you!

Introducción a la programación en C: Tipos de datos y estructuras (or Introduction to C Programming: Data Types and Structures) introduces you to the basic concepts that will help you develop the necessary programming skills to code in C.

There are no prerequisites for this course.

What You’ll Learn

After setting up your programming environment, the first module begins with an introduction to reading and writing data. Next, you’ll learn how to read input from the keyboard and report information to the computer screen with C.

The second module concerns itself with basic data types and operators. You’ll learn how to compute data in C by storing it in variables and performing calculations. Additionally, you’ll learn about ASCII, an encoding standard for text.

In the third module, you’ll learn about arrays and strings, two essential concepts every programmer must know. You’ll learn how to create arrays, access data from them, and work with strings.

Finally, in the fourth module, you’ll learn about basic data structures. You’ve encountered a data structure before, an array. A data structure is a way of storing complex data. You’ll dig deeper into data structures, like how to represent two-dimensional arrays and much more.

How You’ll Learn

This course is 5 weeks long with each week taking 3—5 hours to complete. You’ll learn from watching the lecture videos, reading the course materials, and participating in the discussion forum.

If you’re paying for the certificate, you’ll also have access to the quizzes and programming exercises which are essential to improving your coding skills.

Institution Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Provider edX
Instructor Germán Montoro Manrique and Alejandro Sierra Urrecho
Level Beginner
Workload 15—25 hours total
Enrollments 20K
Rating 4.7 / 5.0 (22)
Certificate Paid

Fun Facts

If you’re interested in this course, you can find more information about the course and how to enroll here.

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Elham Nazif

Part-time content writer, full-time computer science student.

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